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Rwanda genocide suspect Kabuga ruled unfit for trial

#Rwanda #genocide #suspect #Kabuga #ruled #unfit #trial

UN war crimes judges ruled Wednesday that ageing Rwandan genocide suspect Felicien Kabuga is unfit to stand trial but should still go through a stripped-down legal process.

Former tycoon Kabuga, who is 88 according to officials but claims to be 90, is accused of setting up a hate broadcaster that fuelled the 1994 slaughter of around 800,000 people.

Victims groups condemned the “dismaying” decision by the court in The Hague.

Captured in Paris 2020 after two decades on the run, wheelchair-bound Kabuga went on trial last September but judges said medical experts had now found that he has “severe dementia”.

The International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals said in an order that “Kabuga is unfit to participate meaningfully in his trial and is very unlikely to regain fitness in the future.”

Judges instead proposed an “alternative finding procedure that resembles a trial as closely as possible, but without the possibility of a conviction.”

It was important to victims, survivors and the international community that the genocide crimes against Kabuga still be addressed in court, the justices added.

– ‘Genocide mastermind’ –

Prosecutors accuse Kabuga, once one of Rwanda’s richest men, of being the driving force behind Radio-Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), which urged ethnic Hutus to kill Tutsis with machetes.

Kabuga has pleaded not guilty. 

The court first put the trial on hold in March over health concerns, having earlier dismissed bids by Kabuga’s defence lawyers to have him declared unfit to stand trial.

Survivors of the genocide accused Kabuga’s family and lawyers of using “delaying tactics”.

“When Kabuga was arrested after evading justice for more than two decades, we  were happy and thought that justice was finally going to be served,” said Naphtali Ahishakiye, executive secretary of Ibuka, the genocide survivors group.

“The UN has now made a wrong, dismaying and disappointing ruling,” Ahishakiye told AFP in Kigali.

“Nothing is more hurtful than seeing this man, a genocide mastermind and financier, die without facing justice.”

In their order on Tuesday, judges said three court-appointed medical experts had found that Kabuga’s mental abilities had “significantly deteriorated” since before the trial.

The Rwandan was therefore unable to follow what was going on in court, understand evidence, instruct his lawyers or testify, it said.

– ‘Cockroaches’ –

But the court said scrapping the trial altogether was “inappropriate”.

They stressed the “importance of addressing the crimes against humanity and genocide charges against him to the victims and survivors of those crimes, and to the international community as a whole.”

The idea of an alternative legal process had already been tried in some Commonwealth countries and would respect Kabuga’s legal rights.

Kabuga would not be required to attend the new legal process, the court added.

The businessman had refused to appear in court or appear remotely at the start of his trial and has subsequently followed proceedings via video-link at the court’s detention centre.

Kabuga was arrested in Paris in 2020 after years in hiding using a succession of false passports and aided by a network of former Rwandan allies.

Defence lawyers say he was just a businessman with a minimal role at RTLM, which described Tutsis as “cockroaches” that must be exterminated.

They also denied he supplied machetes and supported the murderous Interahamwe Hutu militia.

Kabuga is one of the last Rwandan genocide suspects to face justice, with 62 convicted by the tribunal so far.

Another suspect, Fulgence Kayishema, appeared before a court in the South African city of Cape Town in May after being arrested following 22 years on the run.

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